Talking about The Conversation: five easy pieces in just a few days

Update 22 June 2017: and, lo, just as we ruled a line and settled on the headline, The Conversation came good again with: three charts on looming differential access to the National Broadband Network (digital divide, another form of inequality); three charts on declining homicide rates; something about Australia’s snakes, which are responsible for very few homicides.

The Conversation, wrangled by journalists for a consortium of universities, provides a means for academics (or at least people with a current university connection) to get their thoughts before a reasonably large audience. The Conversation allows other outlets to republish its articles ‘for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence’. For the most part, the articles are well-written, timely, and reflect the passion of the author or authors.

Rather than republish, we at Honest History prefer to just provide a link to the original Conversation article while adding our own commentary, which tries to tie the article to the areas of interest of the Honest History enterprise or to other material already lodged on our site. Here are five articles from the last few days; the fact that we can easily give them four different tags emphasises both the range of subject matter The Conversation converses about and the breadth of interests that Honest History has. As we say on the front cover of The Honest History Book, Australia is more than Anzac – and always has been.

The land

John Woinarski of Charles Darwin University gets beyond the sterile recent discussion about ‘Australian values‘ to look at the connections that Outback dwellers, Indigenous and not, have with the land. He summarises work of the Pew Charitable Trust which asked: ‘How do we see our land? How do we live in it? How do we care for it? How are we shaped by it? What do we value in it, or seek from it? And to what extent does the land now need us?’ Woinarski concludes:

We would like all Australians to more appreciate the care bestowed on our land by those who cherish it, the benefits we all derive from that care, and the need to better support those who seek to maintain our natural legacy. We cannot live well in this land unless we understand it, and value it.

More on this subject.


Which leads seamlessly into Andrew King from the University of Melbourne asking whether our heatwaves are getting worse and our hot days more frequent – and why. His answer:

The trend in rising average temperatures in Australia in the second half of the 20th century is likely to have been largely caused by human-induced climate change. Recent record hot summers and significant heatwaves were also made much more likely by humans’ effect on the climate. The human influence on Australian summer temperatures has increased and we can expect more frequent hot summers and heatwaves as the Earth continues to warm.

Male part-time employment

Another set of charts from Jeff Borland, also at the University of Melbourne, addresses what blokes in the wide, hot brown land do with their time. Borland looks at the gradual growth in part-time employment, particularly for men. The rate of growth in part-time work is actually slowing (looked at over more than 40 years) but the proportion of it done by men and women is evening up.

Part-time employment will still be concentrated in industries such as accommodation and food services; and the share of men in part-time employment will also continue to increase. But this slowing in part-time work shows we are certainly not heading for a labour market where we all work part-time.


But we don’t let just anyone in to our land to work, of course: we keep close tabs on who comes here and the circumstances under which they come. We mentioned values above and Sangeetha Pillai of UNSW is one of many analysts to look closely at the proposed legislation to reform the citizenship regime. (We’ll put up another collection on this issue shortly.) Pillai looks at the proposed powers for the Minister for Immigration to revoke citizenship on suspicion of fraud. She says it is unclear how this power will work in relation to other provisions.

For example, take a situation where the minister believes a person who has been granted citizenship is not demonstrating the values or integration they were assessed for during the application process. Could the minister revoke citizenship on the basis that the person, when applying for citizenship, misrepresented their values or commitment to integration?


Finally, there is blasphemy. We at Honest History have sometimes wondered whether the supporters of the alleged central place of the Anzac legend in the wide, hot, brown, partly-employed, but valued-up land might want to call for blasphemy charges to be laid against non-believers in this secular Anzac religion. Apropos, this piece by Luke Beck of Western Sydney University points out that blasphemy is still a crime in Australia, or at least in in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, the ACT and Norfolk Island. ‘The crime’, says Beck (is nothing to do with Anzac but) ‘is about protecting God and Christian doctrine from scurrilous commentary, and Christian religious sensibilities from offence … The crime of blasphemy is only about Christianity. You are legally free to blaspheme against any other religion.’ In a diverse, multi-faith society, that seems wrong, and Beck says so forcefully.

As for ‘the Anzac religion’, Alison Broinowski and the present author pointed out in the final chapter of The Honest History Book that Anzac was not the ‘established church’; Anzac atheists and agnostics should not be required to worship at its altars. In a liberal democracy, that seems fair. The prevalence of priests, particularly Anglican ones, in Anzac commemorative services is something of an anomaly, though. (Doug Hynd addressed this issue in a thoughtful piece in 2013.)

David Stephens

20 June 2017

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